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Dives in Misericordia

Dives in Misericordia begins by stating that God is “rich in mercy”, by His revelation and, particularly, through the Incarnation.

Christ reveals that we can be forgiven for our sins, which shows his mercy. By revealing Christ to us and having him die for us, we see that God is merciful because he has made the ultimate sacrifice by giving his Son to help man.  Through the Incarnation of Christ, humans can live eternal life in Heaven; this merciful act is an offering of salvation.

What is the concept of “mercy” in the Old Testament? How is the parable of the prodigal son analogous to God’s mercy toward human persons?

In the Old Testament, “mercy” seems to be synonymous with “divinity.”  Christ personifies mercy; Christ is mercy.  This idea allows us to see God as being close to man, especially in man’s suffering and pain.  Also, the idea of mercy is usually linked to the idea of sin.  God forgives us of our sins because he is loving and merciful.  The parable of the prodigal son is analogous to God’s mercy toward human persons because God welcomes us back into his loving arms every time we sin, as long as we are truly sorry.  The love and mercy of the father in the story symbolizes the love and mercy of God.  When the son comes home after squandering his part of the inheritance, his father welcomes him with open arms.  The father realizes that his son’s humanity has been saved, and he loves his son as if he had never left.

Kreeft’s Moral Absolutes

Are there any moral absolutes?

From a Catholic standpoint, yes, there are moral absolutes.  Three examples are Beneficence (doing good), Nonmaleficence (not doing bad), and Respect for Autonomy (everyone should be treated and respected as an individual).

Can one be moral without God?

Man cannot be moral without God.  God created natural law, which serve as a basis for our thoughts.  At times, we may not be able to verbalize why we feel something is wrong, but there is probably a natural law behind that gut feeling.  God is good.  Without God, we cannot be good.  The same goes for morality.  People may disagree on a specific ethical or moral question, but there is an underlying ethical or moral law, which God has already instituted that can be used to answer the question.

In chapter 8, Kreeft sets up four premises against legalized abortion

The four premises are religious, ethical, scientific, and legal.  Abortion is wrong on religious grounds because it kills.  Abortion is wrong on ethical grounds because killing is unethical.  Abortion is wrong on scientific grounds because the fetus is a human being, which the act kills.  Legally, the law is supposed to protect human rights, so abortion should not be legal (it kills humans).

Kreeft discusses the values of “truth” and communication. He looks at 4 truth-crucial areas.

One big area is images.   Things like watching TV and movies is replacing books.  This cuts into our creativity and requires far less brain power, which hurts us in the end.  Our choices are supposed to be made by logical reasoning, which cannot take place without brain power.  Another big area is music.  Music has power on the human soul.  Music has changed for the worse; it’s not all evil, it is moving toward evil (some music).  The problem is that music is part of life.  If we actually believe what some songs say, like rap for example, that’s not good for us.

Today’s Different

Today, I’m going to take a break from my normal religion and philosophy writing because I want to share something that happened to me recently.

After my 5 years of traveling to learn about different religions, which you may have read about on my about page, I settled down in NYC.  It was the obvious choice at the time.  After experiencing so many different cultures abroad, how could I not come back to the one place in the country that has a little piece of all of it in one spot.  I lived in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  I know what you’re thinking – ritzy.  It was a nice place, but I got a great deal on it and split it with a friend.  We did enjoy it for a while.  Nice restaurants were close, the air was cleaner than the normal city air, and because it was a more expensive area, the crime was lower.  It was fun, but I wanted to go somewhere a little bit closer to where I grew up in Massachusetts, which is when I moved to Boston.

I bought a nice 3 bedroom, one story home in Boston, Massachusetts after searching for months to find the perfect one.  It was almost like the “American Dream” home.  It was off-white with a white front porch, gray shutters, and a white picket fence out in the front yard.  I even had the white mailbox to go with it.  I think the only I was probably missing was the milkman, but those days are long gone.  Inside, the floors were all hardwood, granite counter-tops, GE appliances, and furniture from all over the place.  I shouldn’t say that.  The furniture was from the states, but the kinds of furniture and inspiration came from the different countries I’ve been to.  I tried to incorporate the colors and feel of different countries in my furniture and I think I did a pretty good job of it.

white house

This isn’t my house, but it does show the color.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a single picture of it.  I promise to get on that and add it to this post at some point.  Regardless, I love this place…or at least I did.  Last weekend, we had a bad rainstorm.  I was watching the weather on the local news and the weatherman was predicting heavy rains and high wind, atypical for this location in my experience.  Personally, I think a job as a weatherman is the only one where you can be wrong half the time and still get paid, but that’s a rant for another time.  He was correct in his guess on the weather and the rain started coming down very heavily.  That’s when my basement started to flood.  The house was beautiful, but it was already “aged” we’ll say when I purchased it.  The foundation of the house apparently wasn’t very good, and water started pouring in all over the place.  It also didn’t help that it was late at night, so I couldn’t see anything without the lights on.  I was running up and down the stairs like a mad person trying to drain the water out, but I just couldn’t keep up with it.  It was like a sinking ship.  That’s when I called Newton Fire and Flood to fix it. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, but of course, I know people who have, and that company was their recommendation.  Their building is apparently only a few miles away from me.  It was an emergency call – I called in a panic – and they came over faster than I expected to help me.  There was a lot of water damage because so much had flown in through the foundation, cracks, and crevasses.  All of my furniture in the basement was ruined, but there’s nothing anyone could have done about that.  They removed all the water and cleaned up the whole basement in a matter of hours.  Their service went way above and beyond what I expected and I’m just thankful that they were able to get to me so quickly.  I’ve also learned my lesson about an older house.  I’m planning to move again in a couple years, and next time around, I’ll be paying closer attention to how the house may hold up in a freak situation like what happened this time.  I think God was looking out for me this time.

Philosophy Made Easy

Sartre is my favorite philosopher. He is relatively easy to understand and his ideas make a sense to me. Sartre’s statement that “existence precedes essence” is the foundation for existentialism. It basically means that you are what you do and that there is nothing at the basis of human existence but freedom. I don’t completely agree with this idea.

I believe that we are born with certain inclinations toward everything and that we can be molded by outside influences, like parents, friends, teachers, or really anyone. As for our inborn inclinations, I am going to use myself as an example. I have always been somewhat of an introvert. I was always shy around everyone until I got to know them better and grew more comfortable around them. Sartre believes that I was born completely free, which would mean that I could have made the decision of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act around people. As a child, I don’t remember having those choices. I remember feeling shy and not knowing why I felt that way.
I believe that I was born with an inclination toward being introverted. Because of this, I feel that children are not absolutely free; this is mainly because of the fact that the mind of a child is not capable of making the decisions Sartre talks about. I believe that Sartre’s statement that “existence precedes essence” is partially true for people who are old enough to make decisions for themselves. As I’ve grown older, I’ve made the choice to try to be more outgoing, but I am naturally inclined to do the opposite, so it’s difficult for me. I can’t help that I feel shy around people, I just do. I can choose to put myself in a situation that is outside my comfort level in an attempt to make myself more extroverted, but I will always have my natural inclinations to contend with. This is why I don’t completely agree with Sartre.

As for my second statement, that we have no choice as to whether we are molded by outside influences, Sartre would agree with me. Do we really have a choice as to whether or not we are affected by something we experience? As children, I don’t think that we have a choice as to whether or not we are influenced by our upbringing, our environment, or anything else. Once again, I feel that we are not yet old enough to decide whether or not something or someone affects us. When we are old enough to make decisions on our own, we can’t choose whether or not someone or something affects us. We can only choose how much it affects us. For example, if I am held up at gun point, it’s going to have an affect on me whether I like it or not. When it’s over (provided that I am alive), I can decide to how much I am going to let it affect me. I may think about what happened and decide that it’s no big deal, or I may freak out and decide that I need a body guard with me at all times for my protection. I guess that the amount that something affects you depends on the mental strength of the person.

In conclusion, I believe that people are born with natural inclinations and can choose whether or not to go with them when they are old enough. I also believe that the amount of effect that something has on you is determined by the mental strength of the person and their choice as to how much it will affect them.

Socrates & Descartes

Socrates believed that there was a god who placed him on this earth to examine life by challenging and questioning anything and everything.  Socrates was thrown in jail because he expressed his beliefs and many people did not agree with him.  He was considered aggressive and dangerous to the people in power.  Crito attempted to convince Socrates to escape from prison, but Socrates argued against it saying, “…the most important thing is not life, but the good life” (Crito 48b).  Socrates meant that it is important to do more with life than just live.

Socrates believed that one should only value the opinions of experts in a given subject area, not the majority of people (Crito 47a).  The good opinions are those of the people who have expertise in that specific field.  The opinions of the majority of people (who are no experts) should not be paid any attention because they are not valid.

Another belief of Socrates was that one should obey the laws of the government in place, and that one should never do wrong.  Socrates shared this belief with Crito when he asked, “…if we leave here without the city’s permission, are we mistreating the people whom we should least mistreat?” (Crito 49e)  The answer to this question is yes because had he run away, he would not only have broken the law, but he would have also communicated non-verbally that it was okay to disregard the ruling of the court because he felt it was unfair.  Socrates believed that when a person is wronged, that person should not do wrong in return.  Even though the judge and jury that tried Socrates may have been corrupt, he believed that the laws were just.  Escaping from the prison would go against his agreement to live as a citizen under the rule of the government, so Socrates remained there until his death.

Socrates held on to his convictions until his death, never straying from what he believed in.  On page forty-one of the Apology, Socrates expressed that he viewed death as either a dreamless sleep with a total lack of perceptions or a relocation of the soul to a better place (Apology 40c).  This viewpoint on the subject of death surely made it easy for Socrates to accept death.  According to Socrates’ statement, people should not be afraid of death because they will either live again in a better place, or they will just sleep, having no idea that they have died.

René Descartes was born in France in 1596, and educated by the Jesuits. His main areas of interest were in physics, astronomy, and optics.  Descartes made the famous statement, “Cogito Ergo Sum.”  In Meditations on First Philosophy, this statement was translated from Latin as saying, “I think therefore, I am.”  This statement declares that thinking proves existence.

Descartes used hyperbolic doubt to arrive at the conclusion that thinking proves that one exists.  On page thirteen of Meditations in First Philosophy, Descartes says, “…I realized that once in my life I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting in the sciences” (Meditations in First Philosophy 17).  Descartes explained that he could not trust anything without establishing that it was definitely true, so he began his deconstruction of the convictions that people held by doubting everything.

Descartes biggest reason to doubt the convictions that people held was that an evil genius existed, having a powerful mind that counteracted God’s goodness.  Descartes said that the evil genius was always trying to deceive him.  Descartes soon came to the conclusion that the evil genius could not deceive him if he did not exist in the first place (Meditations in First Philosophy 25).  From this point, Descartes had determined that he was a mind, or a thinking thing, because he was the one being deceived.  Then, Descartes thought of another idea.  How could he doubt something if he did not exist?  From this question, he drew his second proof of existence.  He doubts therefore, he must exist.  The fact that Descartes doubts and the fact that he exists as the mind that is being deceived proved that he existed.

Descartes then began his third meditation, on the topic of God’s existence.  The common conviction was that God existed, so Descartes began by inquiring if there was a God and if it was possible for him to be a deceiver (Meditations in First Philosophy 36).  On page thirty of Meditations in First Philosophy, Descartes said, “…there remains only the idea of God.  I must consider whether there is anything in this idea that could not have originated from me” (Meditations in First Philosophy 45).  This statement allowed Descartes to use the common conviction that God is perfect to prove that God existed.  Descartes asked how he himself could exist with the idea of God’s perfection in him if he himself was not perfect.  He then came to the conclusion that the idea that God was perfect must have been created by someone who was perfect.  God must exist because he is the only one who could have created the idea of his own perfection (Meditations in First Philosophy 51).

René Descartes’ reconstruction project was meant to reconstruct the convictions that people hold more solidly by offering proof that they were true. Descartes thought of convictions that people held, like perceptions about external reality, perceptions about internal reality, mathematical properties, and God’s goodness.  Then, he came up with reasons to doubt each conviction, like sensory deceptions, dreams, alternate universes, and the evil genius.

When Descartes reconstructed the convictions that people held, he proved that each conviction was true.  In Meditation Two, Descartes used the example of wax to prove that the perceptions about external reality were true.  He made observations as he watched wax burn and change form as it melted.  Descartes noticed that the wax changed so rapidly and had so many dimensions that it could not possibly be a figment of the imagination (Meditations in First Philosophy 31).  Finally, Descartes stated that bodies (wax included) are not imagined, but perceived by intellect (Meditations in First Philosophy 34).  These two statements were proof that external reality existed.

In Meditation Four, Descartes says, “For every clear and distinct perception is surely something, and hence it cannot come from nothing…Therefore, the perception is most assuredly true” (Meditations in First Philosophy 62).  This statement means that every perception that a person has is something because that perception cannot come from nothing; everything must come from something.  This realization proved that perceptions about internal reality were true.

In Meditation Five, Descartes proved that mathematical properties were true using the example of shapes, numbers, and movements in his mind.  He said that when he first discovered the truth about shapes, numbers, and movements, he felt as if he had known of them before and was just recalling them (Meditations in First Philosophy 64).  Descartes said that mathematical properties must be true because when he thought of a triangle in his mind, he knew the properties of the triangle and what it looked like for certain.

In Meditation Six, Descartes used human health to prove that God exists.  He said that the human body had natural sensations that occurred within the body that were dependent upon specific actions affecting the body (Meditations in First Philosophy 87).  Descartes used the sensation of thirst as an example.  He said that when a human needs water, the body naturally produces a sensation of thirst.  Descartes then concluded that God must be good because he created humans with natural sensations that allowed them to maintain their health (Meditations in First Philosophy 88).